GOP lawmakers propose bills to address Wisconsin’s workforce shortage

MADISON, Wis. — A group of Wisconsin Republican lawmakers on Tuesday introduced a package of bills they say will help address the state’s workforce shortage.

“The Stronger Workforce Initiative” includes more than half a dozen individual bills that range from tying unemployment benefits to the state’s unemployment rate to prohibiting able-bodied adults without kids from turning down a job solely to remain eligible for medical assistance, Sen. Chris Kapenga (R-Delafield) said in a news release.

During a news conference Tuesday morning at the Capitol, Kapenga said lawmakers began working on the package last year.

“We have this enormous need in the workforce and we’ve got a lot of high-paying entry-level wages,” he said, “and then we’ve got this large group of workers that have availability, we’ve got a skilled workforce in the state of Wisconsin. And we have this barrier, this wall that it seems the government has put in place.”

Another bill would require the state’s Department of Workforce Development to investigate if a person claiming unemployment benefits doesn’t show up for a job interview and deny the person’s benefits for that week if they were found to be “ghosting” a potential employer.

Rep. Jon Plumer (R-Lodi) said people are submitting resumes for eligible jobs but don’t show up for interviews. That bill would penalize those people.

“I believe in this system. I believe it’s incredibly important to protect people who, through no fault of their own, have lost their positions,” he said, “but we also have to do everything that we can to protect this system, so it’s there for people when they need it.”

Rep. Tyler August (R-Lake Geneva) said the group plans to act on the bills in both chambers by the end of February.

In a statement following Tuesday’s announcement, Sen. Melissa Agard (D-Madison) said the package “demonize(s) low-income workers and those who have been out of work due to no fault of their own during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

“These Republican bills do nothing to help increase access to the workforce or help more people – they will result in turning away folks who desperately need help,”she said. “Rather than demonizing those who need help, let’s find ways to better support our neighbors through properly funded programs. These bills introduced today are dangerous and are not what we need to be focusing on.”

Instead, Agard said lawmakers should raise the minimum wage, give all Wisconsinites paid leave and expand Medicaid, among other priorities.